Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Recently a friend and I were examining a calendar. She remarked, "Seems like there are a lot of holidays, doesn't it?"

A glance at any calendar reveals numerous small notations inside the monthly pattern of squares. What qualifies a day as a holiday? Is it because something happened on a particular day? It appears there might be a blurring of the selection process.

When I worked in a government office, there were only two months with no "real" holidays -- March and October. Those two months are charming enough but there is no "real" holiday in either, meaning that if government workers wanted a day off in March or October, they had to use a vacation day.

March is home to several activities, some of which involve the consumption of food and beverage. On St. Patrick's Day nearly everyone pretends to be Irish. March also includes basketball mania as people try to predict which teams will make it to the Final Four. It also includes the first blush of spring. But none of these events qualifies it as a holiday.

October includes the glory of fall weather, sweaters, pumpkins and trick-or-treat. Mums bloom and the leaves of red and orange swirl in yards. It stirs thoughts of football. In some areas of the country, Columbus Day is observed as a holiday complete with parades. (In others areas, it is merely a notation on the calendar.)

The other ten months of the year are generously sprinkled with "real" holidays in which most government offices, schools and businesses (like banks and the post office) are closed. From New Year's Day through Christmas, "real" holidays include a mix from Martin Luther King's Birthday to 4th of July and Thanksgiving. Check any calendar for more details.

Members of certain religions also observe their own traditional holidays. Countries outside of the U.S. observe additional days, some of which have spilled over into our observance. Employees of Canadian businesses are off work on Boxing Day, the day following Christmas and traditionally observed in the U.K.

As noted above, there are also regional differences. In Illinois, Casimir Pulaski's Birthday is often observed. California and Ohio observe Rosa Parks' Day on February 4. The third Monday in April is observed in Maine and Massachusetts as Patriots' Day.

There are several other days which are not celebrated as "real" holidays but which are nonetheless important. Earth Day helps expand our awareness of earth and environment. Arbor Day causes us to stop and recognize problems of de-forestation and the vital role played by trees. It would seem appropriate that we should respect both of these days.

Many national holidays are remnants of a bygone lifestyle. Mother's Day and Father's Day are fine traditions. But many homes today do not contain both parents. On these occasions, families are confronted with commercialism and the proverbial hard sell.

It seems odd that two holidays days celebrating birthdays of Lincoln and Washington were morphed into one day just to provide another Monday holiday. These national holidays were re-invented for our convenience.

Everyone can benefit from personal time to spend with family and friends. But if the creation/observance of a holiday is focused on forced criteria such as visiting the local mall because it's having a "[insert holiday name here] Day" sale, then something has been lost.

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